Rethinking how we publish and promote

I’ve been in a lot of industries. One of the most recent iterations (I call it Jack 3.0 — which I might be regressing to in the near future) was hair stylist. As a hair stylist it is a universal truth that there are slow times of the year. And so many stylist, across the board, do everything they can to get through the slower days.

As indie authors, we need to start thinking along the same lines. Many of use have just experienced our first sales “slump” and it was a wicked-powerful slump for sure. So, is there something to be gleaned from the methods employed by the cosmetologists of the world? Why yes, there is. Let’s take a look.

For most salons, the busier times of the year are:

  • January
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • Oct
  • November
  • December

The rest of the year is a slowdown — in some cases a drastic slowdown. How do they compensate for such a slowdown?

  • Sales
  • Freebies
  • Referral programs

And these are pretty much regular. It’s a given the slow times will be there and the slow periods will be like clockwork. Believe it or not, there’s reason for each of the slow months, just like there is a reason for slow months for book sales. For us indie authors, we have certainly seen that both June and July can really be sluggish. Now, the trick is, how do we compensate for slow periods? I have a suggestion:

  • Sales
  • Freebies
  • Referral programs

Sound familiar? Of course it does…you just read that as it applied to cosmetologists. But how can a product and a service be viewed in the same way? Because they both objects of consumer’s desire and there is quite a lot of crossover between readers and those that visit salons. But more importantly, the methods employed by salons actually work to get over those humps and I believe they can work for us.

We’ve already seen the power of the Smashwords July giveaway. That promotion put both Shero and A Blade Away into a lot of readers hands. Granted it was for free, but it (as we used to say in the theatre) put butts in the seats. Add to that, the possibility of reviews generated from those freebies and the idea is even more palatable.

But here’s the thing — these freebie/promo/referral type programs are going to have to become as regular as they are in other industries or else every time a slump comes around we’re all going to throw our arms up in the air with a hearty “OMG WTF WAMS?” (That last bit being “Where Are My Sales?”)

The referral idea merits thought as well. When I was a stylist I would “hire” a few clients, give them free services, and in return they would refer clients to me. This does sort of smack of the lame “street teams” that a lot of the indie bands were using, in the early ’00’s to gain a bit of word of mouth. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, in fact it’s quite brilliant. You get some fanboy and fangirls out there to help spread the word of your work and, in return, you give them free copies of your books or free copies of all your books, or signed copies of your books —
whatever it takes. The slippery issue with that is not looking like you hired a bunch of fanboys and fangirls to roam the planet shouting at the top of their lungs “Read the most incredible book ever written!” I have to think the average reader is a bit smarter than the average listener of music, so they would see through this in a heartbeat.

My point is this — in order to get through these sales slumps, we have to predict them, expect them, and do everything we can to work through them. This summer has been a serious downer for sales…at least for many of us. For those that didn’t experience a slump — I applaud you and hope that some day we are all in that same position. Until then…I say, an ounce of prevention.

Now, let’s all work together and figure out the best plan of attack for those slumps.